Thursday, June 15, 2006


My pal Jen Horner offered some helpful commentary regarding yesterday's post. As usual, she's got more interesting things to say than me. On the topic of 'cultural studies,' she says:
I wouldn't say that these projects are necessarily the right way to go about social change but it is striking how strongly they create a sense of identity, purpose, and community among those groups of students and researchers who do them, and basically serve as a foil (Death Star) against which cultural studies people define themselves.

Right. So, in the field of communication, this 'cultural studies' thing is functional, if only in the sense that it gives those outside the administrative/dominant/effects paradigm a sense of identity, purpose, and community. I guess one thing that makes me so frustrated is the degree to which this identity is constructed largely in the negative: those who do cultural studies use the label to mean that they do work that is NOT a bunch of "ginormous grant-funded projects" (Jen's term, and a good one). Cultural studies in communication cannot be understood without understanding its marginal place in the field. Still, simply doing work 'outside' the dominant effects paradigm Dark Star doesn't give us much to go on. Those in cultural studies are the more reflexive scholars, but this reflexivity seems only to go halfway. Cultural studies has a reflexivity foisted upon it, by virtue of its place in communication. But this reflexivity seems to flag when it comes time for self-critique (admittedly, not as much fun, and almost certainly harder to find in other parts of comm than in cultural studies).

One of the big problems facing the entire field of comm is the inescapable fact that the field lacks autonomy. Granted, professional autonomy is threatened in all academic fields. Still, in the context of the academy, comm has been particiularly likely to give itself up to pressures to raise grant money and/or respond to enrollment pressures. That's been a big part of the growth in comm in the last 50 years. As a marginal operator in this, cultural studies has been left to pick up the crumbs. This leaves many in cultural studies with an overly romantic notion of their own work. Some might say it's just romantic enough. I don't agree with them.

Next post should be on differences in US vs. UK cult studies, and images of them. I think I botched my earlier discussion of that. I'll be doing a lot of botching in all of this...


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